Wanted: A US Middle East Peace Policy Special Ambassador

By: Gershon Baskin


Sunday, September 26, 2004


Purpose: To save last chances for hope amongst Israelis and Palestinians

Time Frame: Immediately

Duration of Position: Full-time and for a long time to come

Compensation offered:  Not much, a lot of time, pain, tears and sweat and maybe some satisfaction if the job is well done as well as a lot of headlines and news coverage.

Employer: The US President, The people of Israel, Palestine and the world

Qualifications: Patience, support of the US President, determination, knowledge, background and experience in Middle East politics, a bark and a bite.

Expected Results: Ending the violence and a return to the political process of negotiations.


As we begin the fifth year of the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it should be more than clear to all that Israel and Palestine are not moving towards tranquility and calm. Stability and economic welfare are no where on the horizon (despite the rosy assessments of the Israeli finance Minister). It is true that the number of victims of the conflict on the Israeli side has reduced each year over the past three years while the number of Palestinian casualties continues to rise. However, no one should think that the present number of deaths and of people suffering is an acceptable status quo. The one common belief amongst all involved is that under the current situation, there is no hope for any return to a peace process in the near future. Palestinian despair has reached new heights while the Israeli public seems to be stuck in a position of trying not to care. But even while trying not to care, the headlines and hourly news bulletins remind us that there is no escaping this terrible reality.


The Israeli government’s initiative for unilateral disengagement is already heading for derailment. Its failing points are built into the plan itself – unilateralism.  The factors working against the disengagement plan can be summarized as follows:



All of this and more are leading to the very real possibility that the disengagement plan may be unimplementable.


Those who expect or are waiting for some kind of Palestinian initiatives to organize themselves for the disengagement and for the taking over control of Gaza will most likely be greatly disappointed. Some Palestinian institutions, PA and NGO’s, have begun to conduct some studies on the impact of the plan, but there is no one to make any decisions on any recommendations that might be produced. The official Palestinian outlook is very bad.  There is a sense of total despair and a feeling that they have no ability to act, as a prominent Palestinian politician put it: “75% of what happens to us in the hands of Israel, another 15% in the hands of Arafat, and God knows who holds the remaining 10% - not us!”


Those who expect or are waiting for Israel to seek potential Palestinian partners for an orderly transfer of governance and assets in Gaza will also be greatly disappointed. The Prime Minister of Israel has no intention to turn the disengagement plan into a bridge leading to the Road Map. It is becoming increasingly clear, with the US support or without it, the Israeli disengagement from Gaza is a rather transparent alibi for cementing Israel’s permanent control over large parts of the West Bank.


The so-called Bush vision of a two-state solution is not on the agenda of this government in Israel. More and more Palestinians are also realizing that the with the combination of the separation barrier/fence and wall, the increased settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the inability (= lack of desire) to remove unauthorized outposts and the increased Israeli military actions in Gaza, the chances of creating a Palestinian state and reaching a ceasefire are next to nil.


In the light of the complete lack of any Israeli or Palestinian leader even trying to lead us back to the table, and the lack of any Israeli or Palestinian public outrage against the failed leaderships on both sides, it is time for the international community to show leadership and determination to stop the snow ball now – before it slides far beyond the control of anyone.


The minimum that is needed now is a new US initiative, appointing a special US Middle East Political Process Ambassador, on a full time basis. It must be someone with knowledge and experience in Israeli-Palestinian affairs, and someone who has the ability to leverage the sides with the complete backing of the President. The main issue on the agenda must be coordinating the Israeli disengagement from Gaza and from the north-west West Bank, including compelling the sides to honor their obligations in Phase I of the Road Map – Palestinian security commitments and Israeli commitments on settlements and outposts.  This appointment and US engagement must occur immediately, because each passing day of leaving the Israelis and Palestinian to themselves means more carnage and suffering and more risks that the disengagement plan could be a real opportunity for positive developments.


Israel’s war against terrorism will not be won on the battle field and the Palestinians war against Israel will not be won with terrorism. This has been tried for the past four years and has only killed thousands of people – nothing has been won or gained. Accepting statements like “nothing will happen until Arafat is gone” may please the ear, but it will do nothing to change reality (likewise, similar statements about Sharon). Those who will come after Arafat and Sharon may prove to be no better. Responsible people on both sides must understand that we are all – Israel and Palestine - well on our way down the slippery slope to national suicide. We may cape ourselves in nationalist mantles of tactical military victories, but at the same time, the cemeteries are being filled with new victims draped in national flags leaving more hatred and burning desires for revenge behind.


It is time (even later than necessary) to realize that Israelis and Palestinians will not get out of this predicament by themselves. The Israeli disengagement plan is not an action of taking control. It is an action of despair and it will not, as the reality is developing, lead to calm and national security for Israel. The Palestinians will simply not agree to have Israel walk out of Gaza and then turn the place into a prison camp while Israel locks it hold on the West Bank even deeper. The way the disengagement plan is unfolding is leading to the strengthening of the radicals on both sides.  The Hamas is gaining strength with every passing day, the Al Aqsa brigades are moving closer and closer in that direction, and in Israel the settlers and their religious messianic fanatic supporters are bringing Israel closer to civil strife and unrest. The threat to Israeli democracy and social solidarity is very real. The few surviving peace forces on both sides have become increasingly dumbfounded.


Never before has it been so clear that US led international intervention is called for. The writing is on the wall. The not constructive international players calling for sanctions against Israel will force the hardliners in Israel to dig in deeper and no good will come from that at this time. Without constructive US engagement, the international actors who have always been against Israel will strengthen their position and the move for boycotts and sanctions across the globe will gain steam. I doubt if the Government of Israel is interested in this development, but in the face of no constructive Israeli-Palestinian engagement, it will happen.


The US remains the main actor who can change the course of events and can turn the disengagement plan into an opportunity for moving the sides back to the table. Only the US can bring both parties to the table.  Only the US can provide the backing, technical assistance and people on the ground to develop the mechanisms for security coordination and for the orderly transference of governance to the Palestinians. Only with a US international initiative can the sides be compelled to fulfill their obligations. This has happened in other parts of the world and in other conflicts. Hasn’t the price paid by both sides been high enough to warrant international assistance and intervention? Isn’t clear that leaving the disease of this conflict to fester will only spread the poison? Hasn’t the time come when it is more than legitimate to call for help?



Dr. Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information